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Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2012 03:12 PM

Tue Jun 07, 2011
Channel NewsAsia
By Anasuya Sanyal

The project requires students to speak the language at least one day a week, to prepare the kingdom for ASEAN integration in 2015.

Thai students study English from their very first day of school.

But internationally, Thai students came 116th out of 163 countries on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test.

Many enter the work force unable to communicate at even a basic level.

In 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community comes into effect, there are concerns jobs will quickly go to foreign nationals with superior English skills and not to Thais.

It's something business leaders, especially in the tourism sector, are well aware of.

Dusit International CEO Chanin Donavani said in English: "We have to say that the Thai people, in terms of English, are not as good as countries like Singapore, Malaysia or the Philippines.

"So there will be a lot of non-Thais coming to Thailand to work in this industry. What we have to do is to try our best to see what we can do."

Enter a new government policy with lofty goals -- activities, camps and competitions all conducted in English.

Although the Thai Education Ministry has declared 2012 an English-speaking year across all schools in the country, implementation of this project may be very difficult indeed.

Some of the problems are cultural, according to experts.

Srinakharinwirot University vice-president for International Relations Aurapan Weerawong, who spoke in English, said: "They are kind of passive learners, because they respect teachers, they have to be quiet, sitting, listening and jotting down -- which is something teachers expect from them.

"But students who need to learn English for communication, they have to be very active learners."

Large hotel chains, like Dusit International, are partnering with established European hotel schools to train the next generation.

All classes will be conducted in English and fluency is a must.

Speaking in English, Dusit Thani College rector Veera Pardpattanapanich said: "English language is one of the most important things.

"If our students have good knowledge or good skills, but not be able to communicate, it's not good.

"So I think we know it. So with this programme is going to help us a lot."

But at the public school level, there aren't enough native speakers teaching English and Thai English teachers sometimes revert to Thai as the language of instruction.

Class participation takes a back seat to grammar and university entrance exams.

A third-year university student said: "For other high school friends, they don't study English that much, because they are scared of speaking English.

"But I think it is a good opportunity to be a student here, so I can speak English a lot with my friends," she added in English.

It's something students may not be aware of until they've nearly completed their studies.

Another third-year university student said in English: "People from Singapore, from Philippines and other countries, which are not Thailand, are likely to gain more about the language, so Thai people have to make sure (they brush up on the) language, so that they can compete with (them)."

For Thailand to stay competitive, not speaking English well is not an option.
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